Michigan State stifles Illinois in 42-3 win

Connor Cook threw for three touchdowns and Michigan State’s

defense locked down Illinois Saturday on the way to a 42-3 win.

Cook finished 15-of-16 for 208 yards, setting a Michigan State

(7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) record for passing efficiency just a week after

he was grilled for failing to move the ball against Purdue.

Tailback Jeremy Langford had 104 yards on 22 carries and two

touchdowns for the Spartans.

The Michigan State defense came into the game ranked first in

the nation in total defense at 228 yards a game, and looked even

better Saturday, holding Illinois to just 128. That included 25

yards on the ground.

Illinois had been scoring 35.3 points a game.

Almost half of Illinois’ offense came on the game’s opening

drive, a 12-play, 53-yarder that ended with a field goal and a 3-0

lead that pumped a little optimism into a homecoming day crowd.

If all you saw was the final score, you might not believe

Michigan State didn’t take over at that moment. But the Spartans

let Illinois hang around, taking their time before finally grinding

them down.

The backbreaker came slowly, agonizingly, over a little under

nine minutes of the second quarter.

What looked like it was about to be an Illinois lead turned into

a big 11-point edge for the Spartans. And, no surprise, their

defense triggered it.

Michigan State stopped the Illini twice from its own 1-yard line

midway through the quarter, stuffing running back Josh Ferguson and

then, on fourth down with the homecoming crowd at its loudest,

tight end Jon Davis just short of the goal line.

The Spartans took over at the 1 with 8:17 left in the quarter

and ground their way oh-so slowly upfield.

More than eight minutes later, Cook faced a third-and-25 at the

Illinois 29 after a pair of sacks. Rolling to his right to avoid

more pressure, Cook slung the ball toward the front corner of the

end zone where wide receiver Bennie Fowler waited behind a pair of

Illinois defensive backs. One of them, freshman cornerback Jaylen

Dunlap, slapped the ball up in the air and then appeared to tip it

again before it looped up and over the goal line and into the hands

of Fowler, falling backward for the touchdown.

Fifteen plays, 99 long yards and 8:08 of clock time gone.

Michigan State was suddenly up 14-3 with nine seconds left in

the half. And an Illini team that started sharp had to wonder how

the heck it happened.

Worse, Michigan State got the football again on the opening

kickoff of the third quarter, and didn’t waste time widening the

gap.

Cook found tight end Josiah Price just outside the Illini end

zone and ducked in for a 13-yard touchdown with 10:07 left in the

third quarter.

Up 21-3, the Spartans were coasting.

The Illini had to think hard about the ways things might have

been different.

The two shots from the Michigan State 1 when the deficit was

just 7-3 hurt.

Just as bad, the Illini settled for the field goal on the game’s

opening drive when a 13-yard Jon Davis touchdown catch from

quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was called back because of a holding

penalty on center Alex Hill. Davis appeared furious when he heard

the referee’s call, punching the air in front of him in

disgust.

And Illinois handed the Spartans their first points. Wide

receiver Ryan Lankford was hit hard by Spartans defensive end

Shilique Calhoun as he tried to pitch to Martize Barr on a double

reverse. The other Spartans defensive end, Marcus Bush, recovered

the ball at the Illinois 23.

Four plays later, Langford punched the ball in from the Illinois

1-yard line for the first of his touchdowns and a 7-3 lead.

Early in the fourth quarter, Andrew Maxwell and Tyler O’Connor

relieved Cook early in the fourth quarter. Cook roamed the sideline

the final 15 minutes with his helmet off, exchanging smiles and

backslaps with Langford, Fowler and the other Spartans starters

who’d been pulled.

Illinois’ Big Ten losing streak reached 17 games, with a road

trip to Penn State on the schedule next Saturday. The last Illini

win the in the conference came more than two years ago, 41-20 over

Indiana on Oct. 8, 2011.